LEICESTER, ENGLAND – Fans of the Aviva Premiership will be satiated heading into the March break, with a sixteenth round that provided plenty of highlights and helped crystalize the playoff picture even further. With three weeks off between now and the next round of fixtures, some teams will be ruing missed opportunities, while others consider themselves well positioned for the run-in. This week and every week, Rugby Wrap Up has your Aviva Premiership Talking Points, recapping any action you may have missed.
Tuilangi Returns as Tigers Maul Falcons
A sight for sore eyes, Manu Tuilangi returned to the pitch for Leicester against Newcastle, helping the Tigers pummel Newcastle, 41-18. The centre managed to collect 36 meters, as well as six tackles before heading off in the sixty ninth minute thanks to a yellow card for a deliberate knock on. England’s management responded by immediately pulling him up for national team duty. While it is doubtful that Manu will be inserted into the fray against Wales, he may manage to make a return for England’s final fixture against Italy in Rome. Richard Cockerill has begun to play his mind games, claiming that the Tigers have played “like crap” all season, yet sit comfortably in fourth place, compared to Bath, who have been “brilliant all season,” yet sit tied with the Tigers on points. While RugbyWrapUp has been critical of Cockerill’s boasting before, this time, he does have a point. Leicester have persevered mightily during a season in which they have seen talismanic forwards Dan Cole, Tom Croft, and Geoff Parling missing for extended periods of time. The Welford Road faithful have seen their team in the final nine straight times, and if the Tigers can repeat their impressive offensive performance against hardier opposition, Leicester may make it a clear ten before the year is out.
Sarries Win Potential Playoff Preview
As the table stands, Saracens would face Bath at home in the semi-final round. The London side will have drawn comfort from a relatively comfortable victory at the Recreation Ground, defeating Bath by a final score of 23-10. Literally minutes before the match started, Charlie Hodgson pulled out feeling ill, forcing fullback Alex Goode into the number 10 shirt. Goode responded magnificently, pulling the strings and kicking two penalties, two conversions, and drop goal for a total of 13 points. David Strettle and Chris Wyles crossed the whitewash for the visitors, while Bath responded with a penalty try in the 72nd minute, but it was too little, too late.
Northampton Tighten Grip at the Top
Gloucester will be more than happy to see this season in their rearview mirror. After entering the year harboring serious playoff ambitions, the Cherry and Whites have arguably been the biggest disappointment in European club rugby, with Freddy Burns completely losing his form and a vaunted forward pack collapsing with alarming regularity. While Gloucester will be adding some serious firepower to their ranks in the summer, they sunk to another defeat against the Saints at Franklin Gardens, limply succumbing 39-13. The Saints collected a try bonus point while running their club-record domestic unbeaten streak to 13 consecutive matches. The Cherry and Whites were actually level at 13-13 before conceding 26 unanswered points, putting in another miserable performance in a truly miserable season.
Best of the Rest
Harlequins could only breathe sigh of relief after the final whistle, squeaking to a victory over the Worcester Warriors 21-20 at the Twickenham Stoop. Once more, Worcester had their hearts broken after putting in a solid first half display which saw them go ahead 13-0 in the first thirty minutes. Chris Pennell, who will likely hear England’s big guns come calling when the season is over, put the Warriors in a position to win after scoring a 74th minute try to draw Worcester within a single point, but the relegation favorites were unable to scratch out any opportunity in the closing five minutes. Danny Cipriani helped his case for an England recall with a wonderful performance for Sale, who extended their sixth place lead over the London Wasps to eight points Sale by dispatching Wasps 21-17 in an engrossing display. Rounding out the weekend, Exeter blanked the London Irish 18-0 in a turgid Sandy Park encounter. Henry Slade pushed through a conversion and two penalties to lead the way with 8 points, while Phil Dollman scored a try right after the half to effectively finish the contest, as the Irish offered nothing going forward all match.
Comments? Thoughts? Questions? Let us know. Please also look for and “Like” our FacebookRugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann Declan Yeats and Karen Ritter, respectively.